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MTT’s Mahler 4

Discussion in 'Music & Music Streaming Services' started by Todd_A, Aug 13, 2005.

  1. Todd_A


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    [This review is from late last year.]

    Today I decided it was time to investigate another of Michael Tilson Thomas’ installments in his on-going Mahler cycle. I am very fond of his rendition of the Sixth, so my expectations were reasonably high. Which of the other four from the current cycle to take? The Fourth, I figured.

    I’ll just come right out and say it: if you hanker for an energetic, swift rendition of this work, look elsewhere. Throughout, there is a relaxed feeling, and the 62 minute timing really should be an indication of that. That’s not to say that the work drags or bores, but it certainly doesn’t muster the same energy of, say, Maurice Abravanel’s recording. The trade-off is in the details. The entire recording is replete with innumerable little touches that differentiate the newcomer from all others. MTT will draw special attention to the flutes here, a little clarinet figure there, and perhaps an especially lovely string passage somewhere else. At times, it almost seems as though the overall arc of the work (and the specific movement) has been sacrificed to the myriad details. But such a fate is avoided, if just barely at times. Something else that is abundantly clear is that this is a thoroughly thought through performance; nary a note seems to have escaped MTT’s eye, and the orchestra seems about as well drilled as one can imagine. So, after the first two movements, I figured I was going to glide home with a fine, nuanced reading that falls somewhat short of the best.

    But then the Poco Adagio arrives. This is the heart of the performance. This is the most incredibly beautiful version of the great adagio I’ve yet heard. The strings produce a wondrous mix of a delicate, light texture married to an achingly beautiful sound. Everything is slowed down and drawn out (to over 25 minutes) so as to allow one to savor each bar just a little more. The middle climax is a bit wanting in power, and the final orchestral explosion is definitely not as strong as I would have liked, but in the context of this recording, such laments are meaningless trifles. The beauty is the thing. The wonderful thing.

    The finale returns to the more earthbound, detail-centric approach. The entries of the brass are underscored a couple times, and the winds receive some additional accenting, and the strings a touch of dynamic twists to suit Mr. Thomas’ taste. His soprano, one Laura Claycomb (a name new to me), has a clear, bright, and attractive tone, and if she hardly evokes thoughts of a child’s voice, she fits the bill well enough. Truth be told, I prefer a more womanly voice anyway, as the fact that Juliane Banse is possibly my favorite of the singers I’ve heard thus far illustrates.

    Overall, this is an idiosyncratic reading that one must be in tune with to enjoy. If ultimately Bernstein (on Sony), Klemperer, and, above all, Abravanel still set the standard for me, I welcome this reading into my collection. That slow movement demands I do.

    Oh, CD layer sound is exemplary.

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